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3 food brands that changed their messaging

3 food brands that changed their messaging Greg Kihlström

An important part of marketing is knowing when to adapt your approach. The world of food marketing is certainly no different. In this article, we're going to discuss three examples of food brands that changed their messaging, why they did it, and how it worked for them.

Starbucks: Keep it simple

Why it changed its messaging

Since it was started in Seattle in 1971, the Starbucks logo has evolved many times. It seemed to settle for a time, however, between 1987 and 2011 (with a brief misstep in 2008) in a consistent design. Then, in 2011, the brand evolved not only its logo, but its marketing messaging. Starbucks Coffee would now simply be known by its symbol logo, as the company name was taken out of the logo mark itself. It also dropped the "Coffee" from the name.

One obvious reason that Starbucks rebranded and revised its messaging is because it has been continually expanding beyond "coffee" as it has grown internationally. Starbucks has expanded its food offerings, and in some markets has been introducing beer and wine. The messaging has also evolved to involve customers in a greater way, whether through cause-related initiatives or other programs.

Starbucks didn't set out to reinvent itself so much as to evolve and mature. The more sophisticated look has enabled the coffee brand to grow and continue to expand around the world.

How it worked

Although there was some initial backlash against the new, simplified logo, Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz stood his ground and did not backtrack in a similar way to Tropicana or Gap, which rebranded during a similar time frame.

In the long run, however, Starbucks took a simplified approach that paid off. Schultz said of the rebranding, "The goal was not only to refresh the mark but to free the Siren from the ring, allowing her to be treated more artistically."

Just in case you were wondering how a fancy new logo and revised messaging correlated with increased revenues, you only need to reference the fact that between the year 2008 and 2014 (a period in which the rebrand occurred halfway through), the stock price of Starbucks grew 948 percent. Yes, nearly 1,000 percent growth in a handful of years. While messaging wasn't the sole reason for that growth, the revised brand most certainly assisted!

Lowes Foods: Question everything

Why it changed its messaging

In 2014, North Carolina-based grocery store chain Lowes Foods did a complete rebranding of everything from its logo to the layout of its over 100 stores in the Southeastern United States.

Faced with competition from other local and larger regional grocery store chains, Lowes Foods failed to stand out. In order to grow and thrive, it needed to find a way to stand out. Martin Lindstrom, President of Lowes Foods, told CNBC, "You can't compete on volume, you can't compete on prices because the online retailer will always win."

So instead of simply changing the logo, the company took a brand new approach from the ground up. It emphasized (instead of shied away from) the local aspect of the store. It added themed sections of the store (such as the Beer Den) that brought in a unique design and flavor to the grocery shopping experience. The agency that helped with the rebranding encouraged the retailer to follow in the steps of a theme park and not simply follow the lead of the next largest grocery store.

Most successfully of all, it created something wholly unique: the Chicken Dance. Yes, that's right. When the latest batch of rotisserie chickens is finished cooking, the floor team plays a song and does a dance.

How it worked

It's easy to call the Chicken Dance (here's the video you know you wanted) a silly gimmick, but it resulted in a 23 percent increase in transaction volume soon after the brand launch. It works because the entire brand is cohesive and feels authentic to the setting and context of the stores.

It also works because of its strong focus on customer experience. Instead of competing solely on price, or even solely on appearances, the Lowes messaging change engages customers in a personal, fun, and memorable way. Lowes explains this by saying "...our job is not to be an incrementally better grocery store. We want to create something different and unique in the grocery experience overall."

It will be interesting to see what other players in the retail space will follow suit and focus on customer experience.

Domino's: Change the conversation

Why it changed its messaging

On "Mad Men," Don Draper famously said, "If you don't like what people are saying about you, change the conversation." Domino's Pizza took a page from that playbook in 2010 when it changed its message and rebranded to Domino's without the "Pizza" at the end.

Domino's Pizza grew since its founding in Michigan in 1960, but its brand had become stale. It was perhaps best known for its "Avoid the Noid" campaign from the 1980s, and that recognition was doing little to boost sales with younger demographics.

The messaging change happened in 2010 just after the pizza chain's 50-year anniversary. Determined to change its reputation as a subpar pizza place, and change the conversation about Domino's, it scrapped its pizza recipe and started over with a new menu, and even a new name, which was simply Domino's.

The brand's advertising became all about challenging the status quo, even when that meant challenging itself as a company. It has managed to keep that messaging intact over the years, continually positioning itself as a game-changer and innovator, with everything from enabling ordering via emojis to new and improved pizza recipes.

How it worked

It's not a question of whether it worked, but of just how much it exceeded expectations. From 2011 to 2016, Domino's stock grew by 700 percent, outperforming Papa John's (at only 300 percent growth), which was a phenomenon in its own right. It stands to reason that by challenging the status quo, and even taking responsibility for its own shortfalls, Domino's was able to show extraordinary returns, while also creating many happy customers and winning back those who defected.


From these examples you can see that changing your messaging can have amazing results. But more importantly, the reasons why you do it and your plan for following through need to be genuine, centered on engaging your customers, and part of a long-term plan to continually strive to improve.

Greg is SVP of Digital at Yes&, a performance-driven marketing agency in the Washington, DC region. He was founder and CEO of Carousel30, a digital agency he started in 2003 which was acquired in late 2017 by PCI Communications which, together...

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